Broadcast Engineer at BellMedia, Computer history buff, compulsive deprecated, disparate hardware hoarder, R/C, robots, arduino, RF, and everything in between.
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Where Did That iPod Come From?

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Apple’s 1st Generation iPod, 2001

Few topics are more controversial among people who study histories of science and technology than the categories of basic versus applied research. In part, it’s because the borders between basic vs. applied research shifts over time. What was “basic” in 1880 might be applied (or simply black-boxed knowledge) a few decades later. Moreover, even within one particular time period, the labels “basic” vs “applied” are actors’ categories. They’re contingent on the circumstances in which researchers deploy them and the rhetorical work they (and we) want them to do.

I was reminded of these distinctions this week when the Technology Academy Finland announced the recipient of its prestigious Millennium Technology Prize (and a cool 1 million euros). The winner is Stuart S.P. Parkin, an IBM Fellow based at the Almaden Research Centre in San Jose as well as the director of the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics.

2014 Millennium Technology Prize

1 million reasons to smile.

Parkin is being honored for his discoveries which have “enabled a thousand-fold increase in the storage capacity of magnetic disk drives.” These innovations, according to the Finns, have “underpinned the evolution of large data centers and cloud services, social networks, music and film distribution online.”

Parkin’s work is especially illuminating for the “what is science and what is technology?” question given the historical background of his work. The origins of it go back to basic physics research carried out in the late 1980s in France and Germany. In 1988, Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg independently discovered that tiny changes in magnetism can produce unexpectedly strong electrical signals. Because the response was so much greater than any of them expected, they named the phenomenon giant magnetoresistance (GMR).1 In mid-1988, both the French and the German research teams presented their results at a conference in France and submitted their studies for publication in the Physical Review. Aware now of each other’s work, the two scientists agreed to share credit for the discovery. Their work also helped initiate a new field of interdisciplinary research called spintronics which blends novel solid-state physics and device engineering with well-established areas of research such as magnetics and materials science.

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Happy days…Fert and Grünberg, 2007

In 2007, the two European scientists shared the Nobel prize for physics. Yay! But what happened between 1988 and 2007 is the key here…and this is where Parkin entered the picture.

The first commercial application of the GMR phenomenon was in devices to detect slight magnetic fields for applications like landmine detection and traffic control systems. While sensor devices were fine for niche applications, other companies were eager to apply the GMR effect to more lucrative markets. This included IBM and the researchers it employed at its Almaden lab, a place where there was already a long tradition of work on magnetic information storage technologies.

Parkin was one of the IBM researchers who undertook this research. In 1980, Parkin earned his doctorate in physics while working at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. Still in his twenties, he joined IBM Almaden laboratory in 1982 and did research on topics such as high-temperature superconductivity for several years. After learning about the Europeans’ GMR research, he began to explore the magnetic properties of multilayer thin films with an eye toward improving the capabilities of the company’s hard disk drives.

In 1991, Parkin and his colleagues described what they called a “spin valve,” a device that makes use of the GMR phenomenon.2

Unlike Fert and Grünberg, who built samples using the more precise but slower and expensive tool of molecular beam epitaxy, Parkin’s group tried using sputter deposition equipment. This fit the goals of the Almaden group which wasn’t on basic science per se but on making devices that could be readily manufactured. Parkin’s use of sputtering held appeal for a company like IBM which had extensive experience in fabricating sputter-deposited magnetic storage media on an industrial scale. As one observer of Parkin’s research later recalled, the British scientist and his colleagues “simply engineered the shit” out the underlying GMR discovery as they made and characterized over 30,000 different multilayer combinations.

IBM eventually used the spintronics research Parkin and his colleagues had done to redesign and improve a basic element – the read head – in the company’s hard disk drives.

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In November 1997, The Wall Street Journal carried a front-page story about IBM’s unveiling of a new innovation for the personal computer industry. Based on the Almaden group’s exploitation of the GMR phenomenon, the new drives featured exquisitely sensitive magnetic read heads. For example, they could store eight times as much data as competitor’s equipment while still being smaller in size.3 This helped set the stage for the subsequent explosion in computer memory.

micro8

The result? Tiny hard drives that Apple incorporated into its early iPods. Fert and Grünberg’s work – channeled through Parkin and his colleagues at Almaden – found its way into the hands of millions of earbud wearing teenagers and subway commuters.

Historians, recognize that “pure science” is very much a social construction and one that often, after closer scrutiny, may not be quite so uncomplicated. Fert and Grünberg originally discovered GMR in the tradition of small-scale basic physics research. Parkin helped translate this into practical applications. Businesses, large and small, swiftly patented these applications and integrated it into products worth billions of dollars in annual sales. In this week’s Millennium Prize announcement, we can discern connections between contemporary scientific research and engineering applications and also see the shifting boundaries between science and technology.

  1. Peter Grünberg, then at the Jülich Research Center in western Germany, and his team made their discovery using Fe/Cr/Fe tri-layers. At the same time, Albert Fert and his group at Laboratoire de Physique des Solides at the University of Paris-Sud were examining more complex Fe/Cr multilayers. Fert and Grünberg’s work represented nanotechnology research long before the word itself fully entered the popular lexicon. For example, Fert’s team prepared its alternating iron and chromium layers – each less than ten nanometers thick – with molecular beam epitaxy, a key proto-nano research tool, before observing the GMR effect.
  2. As described in its basic form, a spin valve is composed of two magnetic layers separated by a nonmagnetic layer. When the magnetic moment of the magnetic layers are aligned, electrons move more easily and the sample shows low resistance. If the magnetic layers are not aligned, the spin-dependent movement of electrons is impeded and resistance goes up. In this way, the device acts as a valve, affecting the passage of electrons depending on whether the valve is “open” or “closed. At about the same time, Parkin and four other colleagues filed for a patent. This was awarded in October 1992.
  3. Raju Narisetti. “IBM Unveils Powerful PC Disk Drive, Confirms Plans to Join Two Divisions.” The Wall Street Journal, November 10, 1997: 1. IBM’s device held about 17 gigabytes of data (double what the company had previously offered) and was 3.25” in size; the best products from other firms had about thirty percent less storage capacity and were two inches bigger.
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Tick, tick, tick

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No idea who made this, but it's wonderful. If you know, post in the comments, please.

Update: It's from Bees and Bombs, to which I have just subscribed.






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tekvax
3 days ago
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my brain hurts!
Burlington, Ontario
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Blackmagic adds more pro cameras at market-nuking prices

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Blackmagic's trick is to make cameras with great cinematic image quality at a relatively inexpensive price. The tradeoff is gear that is Satan's gift to ergonomics, with low-end audio inputs, terrible battery life and a limited set of features. Enter the Blackmagic Studio Camera, which includes a big 10" monitor, 4 hours on a charge, XLR inputs, and broadcast-friendly features lacking in the earlier models. With the offered grip accessory, one may even hold it with a human hand! The game-changing prices remain: it's just under $2k, with a 4K version for $3k. You'll still need to bring your own lenses and SSDs.

Also announced is the Blackmagic URSA, a higher-end model with a super35-size 4k sensor aimed at professional feature use. At $6k, it isn't as affordable to students and consumers as the other models (especially the $990 pocket cinema camera), but it compares well on paper to the five-figure price tags hanging off similar gear from Canon, Sony and others.






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How airlines treat the one-percenters

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Qantas A380's fully flat Skybed in business class

In the April 21 edition of The New Yorker, David Owen describes the luxuries of premium-class seating and visits the firms that design jet interiors.

Seven years ago, I flew business class on Qantas from Australia to California, a thirteen-hour trip. I hadn’t had much experience outside economy, but I didn’t want to look like a front-of-the-plane rookie, so I stowed my “amenity kit” without ripping it open, declined the first cocktail a flight attendant offered me, and tried to appear engrossed in a book while the passenger nearest me bounced around like a four-year-old at a birthday party. I didn’t begin to play with my own seat until after dinner, when I lowered it into its fully extended position, and stretched out -- not to sleep, which is something I hardly ever manage on airplanes, but to see how the thing worked. The concave back of the seat shell formed a domed enclosure over my head, like a demi-cocoon. Suddenly, I heard people speaking in loud voices and banging things around. I sat up, indignant -- and realized that the noise was the sound of breakfast being served. I’d slept for eight hours straight, something I never do even at home. In a little while, we began our descent into Los Angeles.

Game of Thrones: How airlines woo the one per cent






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tekvax
4 days ago
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must be nice!
Burlington, Ontario
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New Project: Near-Space Balloon Cam with Arduino and APRS Radio

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Balloon0302Build this battle-tested rig to launch, track, and recover a high-altitude balloon that will carry your hacked Canon camera to the stratosphere. With this setup using APRS ham radio and the Trackuino — an Arduino-based communications board — any hobbyist or science class can photograph (and video) the Earth against the blackness of space, and bring these amazing images home to share.

Read more on MAKE



Download video: http://videos.videopress.com/ygUh5nP8/descent_dvd.mp4

Download video: http://videos.videopress.com/y63VYccT/firstafterlaunchvideo_dvd.mp4

Download video: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/makezineonline/~5/7t2EcU66GJk/ascent_dvd.mp4
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Fake Audiophile Opamps Revealed

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chip

The OPA627 is an old, popular, and very high-end opamp found in gear cherished by the most discerning audiophiles. This chip usually sells for at least $15, but when [Zeptobars] found a few of these expensive chips on ebay going for $2, his curiosity was piqued. Something just isn’t right here.

[Zeptobars] is well known for his decapsulating and high-resolution photography skills, so he cut the can off a real OPA627, and dissolved one of the improbably cheap ebay chips to reveal the die. Under the microscope, he found an amazing piece of engineering in the real chip – laser trimmed resistors, and even a nice bit of die art.

The ebay chip, if it were real, would look the same. It did not. The ebay chip only contained one laser trimmed resistor and looks to be a much simpler circuit. After a bit of research, [Zeptobars] found it was actually an AD774 opamp. The difference is small, but the AD774 still has much higher noise – something audiophiles could easily differentiate with their $300 oxygen-free volume knobs.

This isn’t the first instance of component counterfeiting [Zeptobars] has come across. He’s found fake FTDI chips before, and we’re counting the days until he gets around to putting a few obviously fake ebay 6581 6551 SID chips under the microscope.


Filed under: hardware
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tekvax
7 days ago
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$300 oxygen-free volume knobs indeed!
Burlington, Ontario
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